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What Makes a Good Mental Health Case Manager?

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Mental health case managers play an important role in the social welfare system. They help patients with mental illness, such as schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorder, who are unable to care for their basic needs. Mental health case managers advocate for their clients' needs with social welfare agencies and other institutions, offer counseling and coordinate and monitor services. Good mental health case managers need the right skills, education and personality for the job.

Education and Training

Mental health case managers must have a thorough understanding of the impact of mental illness on their clients. They need to know how to navigate the social welfare system and how to obtain benefits and concrete needs for their clients. In most cases, mental health case managers learn these skills in post-secondary education. They usually earn at least a bachelor's degree in social work or a related field, such as psychology, but many employers prefer candidates with master's degrees in social work, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition to a degree, some employers may require or prefer that mental health case managers hold state licensure in their respective field.

The Right Skills

Good mental health case managers should possess excellent communication skills. They must be able to communicate different ideas and concepts to clients who may suffer from cognitive or language impairments or psychiatric symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations. But they must also be able to listen to their clients' feelings and respond with empathy. Good mental health case managers should be adept at assessments and have excellent problem-solving skills. Since they often deal with crisis situations, such as suicidal or self-injurious clients, they should also have excellent crisis intervention skills.

Extensive Knowledge

In addition to a comprehensive knowledge of mental health disorders and the social services system, mental heath case managers should be knowledgeable in a variety of additional areas, including basic psychology, therapy and counseling. They should know how to relate to clients suffering from mental illness and understand the symptoms associated with their clients' diagnoses. Mental health case managers also need to stay up-to-date with changes to legislation that could potentially impact the delivery of social services and affect their work with clients.

A Resilient Personality

Working as a mental health case manager can be stressful. According to a joint paper by the National Association of Social Workers and the Case Management Society of America, case managers must often deal with high caseloads -- in community mental health settings, the ratio of clients to workers has been reported to be as high as 50:1. Mental health case managers must be resilient and able to tolerate high levels of stress. They should have excellent coping skills and a strong external support network. To prevent compassionate fatigue -- or burnout -- they should be able to maintain healthy boundaries with clients and avoid bringing work home with them.


Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

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